Any parent of a child with autism knows how important it is for their little one to develop the skills necessary to maneuver in this world.   With all of the research being done in this field, two studies (one published in the journal Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and one published in the journal Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities) show a new video game helps children with autism and intellectual disabilities learn skills for independence. 

‘Small Steps, Big Skills’ is a new video game developed and researched with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that combines Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methods of video modeling and least to most prompting to teach 22 skills for independence.  

Instructional sessions start with video modeling then children practice the skill using a simulated version of least to most prompting.  Video modeling is a method where skills are taught by showing a video of the skill completed correctly.  Least to most prompting is a method where a skill is broken into a sequence of steps.  For example, hand washing includes turning the water on, getting hands wet, getting soap, etc.  At each step a child completes the step independently and moves to the next step, or, if a step is done incorrectly, they are presented with a hierarchy of three prompt levels. This allows for ‘errorless learning’ or support at each step until the child successfully completes the skill.

A variety of materials are shown in the game to promote generalization of the skills.  Skills also are shown from a first person perspective to give the player a realistic view of performing the skill.  The game can be customized by adding your own videos into the video rotation.  Players’ progress is tracked, and children are rewarded with eight fun games after practice sessions.  

Findings from the beta version of the game showed that linking these elements is an effective way to teach skills, and results were published in two special education journals.  The first study results published in Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities in December, 2009 showed three elementary aged students with autism mastered all three skills taught through a beta version of the video game and generalized the skills to their natural environment. In a second study published in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in June, 2010 results showed three middle school-aged students with intellectual disabilities increased the percentage of steps completed in the correct order after playing the game.  

Based on these findings, a larger grant was awarded to develop and research a game of 22 skills and evaluate its effectiveness.  This study is nearing completion and the findings are similar to beta findings.  Results will be submitted to journals, but the full game is available now.  The game, ‘Small Steps Big Skills,’ includes washing hands, putting on a seatbelt, making the bed, and clearing a cafeteria tray as well as other important skills for independence in the home, school, and community. 

For more information see the grantee’s website